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House Committee on Culture, Rec, and Tourism Public TDA Testimony - CWD Hearing in Hondo

September 3, 2015
TDA Staff

House Committee on Culture, Rec, and Tourism
Public TDA Testimony – CWD Hearing in Hondo
Thursday, September 3, 2015

Good afternoon Chairman Guillen and committee members.  My name is Patrick Tarlton and I am the Executive Director for the Texas Deer Association. Our Association represents an industry that contributes more than $700 million dollars to the Texas economy each year and more than 8,000 jobs to hard working Texas families across the state.

For the past decade, deer ranchers in this state have led the way in CWD testing and preventive measures.  Long before the index herd positives this summer, our industry readily participated in CWD monitoring programs to ensure responsible management of our herds.  In fact, the ranch from which the positive result occurred was participating in such a program, proving that the monitoring system in place at that time was effective. Not only did the system work, but a common-sense, science-based plan authored in 2012 existed to deal with a situation like we find ourselves in today. 

However, in response to the CWD positives this summer, our state regulators chose a very different response. CWD went from a science-based, disease management discussion to a full-on, crisis-mode, scattershot approach. The current Executive Order now governing the movement of whitetail deer in Texas was created in closed door, executive sessions with little to no public input. A Task Force was established to oversee the discussions, but input from this group was largely ignored.  The Task Force was presented a flowchart from regulators, rather than being involved in the development of that plan.  This has resulted in the overregulation of our industry and a reactionary response to 4 CWD positives. Make no mistake, the Order governing our system today has impacted the lives of law-abiding citizens across this state. It has resulted in millions in lost revenue, the degradation of our industry’s reputation, and has stifled a once-booming business economy.

In no way am I minimizing chronic wasting disease. Our industry remains committed to ensuring the spread of CWD does not happen in Texas. No industry is more invested in the health of whitetail deer than ours. Yet, in this case, the disease still has not killed a single deer in breeding facilities. However, the response to CWD by state-mandated regulations has cost the lives of over 600 deer to date, and will likely cost another 600 deaths by September 22nd. It is undeniable that the response to this disease has been far worse than the disease itself.  And, to make matters more unbearable, every test outside of the index facility to date has returned as non-detected.  EVERY. LAST. TEST. This overreaction to a successful monitoring program has damaged the livelihoods and property values of of Texas landowners, businessmen, and entrepreneurs.

Moving forward, Texas must do better. We must utilize all the tools in our toolbox.  Our industry adamantly supports the live testing of adult whitetail deer to effectively achieve disease management. We must base our surveillance of this disease on testing healthy, live animals – not ones we are forced to sedate and destroy. Live testing has been shown to be 90% accurate in some studies.  We must insist that Texas Parks and Wildlife and Texas Animal Health Commission utilize live testing in order to prevent further harm to the Texas deer industry.

Furthermore, this is NOT a breeder disease. This is a whitetail disease. Texas must test its whitetail population across the state to ensure our overall herd is not infected. There are over 4 million whitetail deer in Texas. Since 2003, less than 30,000 hunter-harvested deer have been tested for CWD. That is an average of approximately 2,500 deer per year.  Even using the most conservative figures – about 600,000 deer are killed by hunters each year. This means we are testing only four tenths of one percent of the wild population in Texas.

Make no mistake, there isn’t a rational person amongst us that would claim this is responsible disease surveillance. No longer can Texas regulators claim that CWD is a breeder disease. The fact remains that we have no way of knowing whether this disease is in our non-captive herd or not. We are simply turning a blind eye to the overwhelming majority of the deer population in Texas.

Yet, we have established a program that requires our industry to test 50 to 100 percent of its harvested population. In most cases, this requirement means that our industry will test at a rate of more than 40 times higher than hunter-harvested, free-ranging deer that are under the direct control of Parks and Wildlife. In no way does this represent equal or equitable testing. This type of discrimination must cease.

We were told this was an epidemic of potentially enormous proportion, yet there is no scientific evidence in other states that would corroborate this.  We were told that deer must die so that the herd of “wild” Texas deer would be protected, yet no effort has been made by Texas Parks & Wildlife to engage in mandatory testing of the non-captive herd – even in properties adjacent to the index facility, we will not employ mandatory testing. If deer breeders and select high fenced ranches completely unconnected to the index herd are to be mandated to test 50% of mortalities for CWD, then so too should all facets of the Texas deer herd: low fence, high fence and no fence.

Furthermore, we beg you to take action to release the mandate on unconnected herds. There is ZERO scientific evidence which supports the mandate of emergency rules on breeders completely unconnected to the index herd. The damaging, retroactive testing requirements that have been mandated on these law-abiding permit holders is unjustified and should be dismissed immediately. We can no longer afford to continue to require the death of healthy, unconnected animals in the name of increased surveillance. Many of these breeding facilities were following every facet of the law prior to the Executive Order. Why must they continue to suffer, watch their businesses and financial investments diminish, standby as their land values depreciate, and continue destroying their most prized possessions? 

Here today, we acknowledge and applaud Texas Parks and Wildlife for stating that these rules will only be effective until the end of the current hunting season. This provides consistency, certainty, and relief to our industry.

I appreciate your time and would be happy to answer any questions you may have.